When it comes to winning a championship, every detail matters. Teams spend countless hours looking for the smallest margin to exploit.
Over the next two weeks the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers will pour their hearts and souls into finding any and every small advantage to help their names become a part of football history.
The Chiefs have one significant edge in this game that nobody is talking about. No, it's not their game-changing quarterback, dominant defense, or even a pop star. It's a factor that the 49ers won't be able to prepare for—no matter what.
Last week's round of conference championship games featured two franchises that'd played in 10 such games over the last 7 years and two teams with 0 combined appearances during that same time frame (the Detroit Lions and Baltimore Ravens). The Ravens struggled to keep their composure with 4 personal foul penalties, 2 of which directly contributed to points for the Chiefs. The Lions raced out to a large lead but struggled to protect it throughout the game. As momentum shifted they tightened up and made crucial errors.
Having experience in big games is crucial—particularly, in starting and finishing the games. The Ravens' dynamic offense came out of the gate and went three-and-out immediately. The Chiefs' offense marched down the field and scored. The Ravens spent the rest of the game chasing those points. The 49ers had the confidence to keep pressing despite being down 17 points while the Lions literally dropped/fumbled away their lead under pressure.
Super Bowls are different and it's more than just the big game. The participants get an extra week to prepare; they leave for the game a week early. The players spend days being questioned by the largest media presence of any sporting event in the country, and they still have a game to focus on. The crowd will feel different than a home or away crowd and the teams will have an extra long half-time as well.
All of these factors matter when it comes to on-field performance. Sure, there are many other elements in deciding what team hoists the Lombardi Trophy but make no mistake, winning the Super Bowl is about winning the week too. Several teams/players have hurt themselves before the game has ever started.
By the Numbers
The Chiefs have a staggering differential when it comes to Super Bowl experience over the 49ers. Obviously, playing in the game just a year before largely helps that number but it's more than just that. Several veteran additions by Brett Veach have Super Bowl experience. Mike Edwards, Blaine Gabbert, Justin Watson, and Donovan Smith all were a part of Super Bowl 55 playing against the Chiefs for Tampa Bay. Richie James faced the Chiefs in Super Bowl 54, and Joe Thuney helped round out the Patriots dynasty before he signed with Kansas City.
The Chiefs have a total of 66 Super Bowl appearances on their active 53-man roster compared to just 16 appearances for the 49ers—and most of those came from Super Bowl 54. As far as championships won, the margin is large as well. The Chiefs have a total of 48 Super Bowl championships on their 53 while the 49ers have only four. For San Fran, two of those rings belong to 32-year-old Logan Ryan along with on apiece for former Chiefs corner Charvarius Ward and former Rams DL Sebastian Joseph-Day.
How much does it Matter?
The Super Bowl is the biggest stage in all of American television and sports. There are stories of seasoned veterans vomiting in the huddle due to the pressure of the moment and the game. For the Chiefs, they are playing with (pardon the pun) house money. Nearly everyone on the roster has already won a ring and will get to play this game without that pressure.
The 49ers are a great team and maybe they win this game off of talent and scheme alone, but the pressure is on them. Kyle Shanahan is developing a track record of not being able to win the big game. There are several players on the Niners entering the latter part of their careers and others who might be moving on to a new team next year.
When the Chiefs' offense runs onto the field for the first time, they should feel comfortable from their first play. When Harrison Butker lines up to attempt a field goal, he's already made a Super Bowl-winning kick before. Andy Reid can manage the game like a coach who is already a Hall of Fame lock. This lack of pressure can bring the composure that the Chiefs need to be repeat champions.